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January 21, 2010

City to hire own firm to investigate 13-foot extension of Ragged Mountain Dam

Reader comments (0) By Sean Tubbs
Charlottesville Tomorrow
Thursday, January 21, 2010

The City of Charlottesville will seek proposals to hire a new firm to determine a cost estimate for raising the existing Lower Ragged Mountain Dam by 13 feet as part of an amended community water supply plan. That was one of several decisions made by City Council on Tuesday following a briefing by the director of the Rivanna Water Sewer Authority (RWSA).

Tom Frederick had suggested that the City agree to pay Schnabel Engineering to perform that work, but City Council agreed with citizens who argued that hiring that company would be a conflict of interest.

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20100119-Norris-Frederick Mayor Norris asks RWSA executive director Tom Frederick a question
Frederick was on hand to report on the progress of the many studies put into action following November 2008 and March 2009 meetings of the four boards with jurisdiction over the water supply.

Council also agreed to expand the dredging feasibility study currently underway to include work that will analyze whether the material brought up from the reservoir floor can be used commercially. The firm conducting the study, HDR Engineering, said it would not be able to deliver an accurate cost estimate for restorative dredging without that information. If the material has no commercial value, more land would be needed in order to store it. Though they took no formal vote, Council agreed to spend up to $24,932 on this aspect of the study.

Council also appointed Mayor Dave Norris to serve as the City’s representative on the RWSA, replacing Councilor Holly Edwards.

Frederick updates Council on studies to revise or amend water supply plan

The RWSA is currently administering five studies related to revisiting the fifty-year water supply plan that was unanimously adopted by the City Council and the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors in June 2006. A combination of citizen concerns and increased cost estimates for the plan’s components has kept the debate alive, resulting in these additional studies.

In May 2009, Council agreed to pick up the cost of these studies  after the Albemarle County Service Authority (ACSA) declined to pay for anything that did not pertain to the existing plan.
Frederick said these five studies will all be completed by this summer, allowing for the community to either proceed with the plan that has received federal and state permits or to proceed with a modified plan.

The studies are:

  1. New design for the new Ragged Mountain Dam: Schnabel Engineering was hired in September 2009 to design the dam after previous designer Gannett Fleming was fired after the cost estimate for its design close to tripled. Council agreed at Monday’s meeting to allow test 20-foot deep trenches to be built near the site of the dam to allow Schnabel to collect more information. A new cost estimate is expected by May.
  2. Dredging feasibility study: HDR Engineering has begun work on the first phase of this study, which includes a bathymetric survey, and an assessment of whether wetlands have formed due to siltation. A public meeting to discuss how this work is proceeding will be held in either late February or early March. The second phase, which will examine potential dewatering and storage sites for the dredged material, begins after the public meeting.
  3. Conceptual pipeline design review: Wiley and Wilson has been hired to review proposal in the water supply plan to construct a pipeline to transfer water from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir to the Ragged Mountain Reservoir. A report will be delivered to the RWSA at their February meeting.
  4. Review of three pipeline concepts: RWSA will produce a report listing the potential advantages and disadvantages of three potential pipeline alternatives bringing water from different sources. This includes the proposed new South Fork pipeline, repairing the existing pipeline (built in 1927) that carries water from the Sugar Hollow Reservoir to the Ragged Mountain Reservoir, and a new pipeline to the James River. The latter two options were previously eliminated from the water plan in 2006.  This report will be presented to the RWSA.
  5. Study of I-64 embankment: Evaluating the impact of inundating the I-64 embankment near the Ragged Mountain Reservoir if a new 112’ foot dam is built at Ragged Mountain.  The firm Volkert Inc. was hired by the RWSA in November with a cost estimate for a strengthened embankment due in May

Council asked for guidance on additional studies


The South Fork Rivanna Reservoir was built in 1966

The first question was whether to proceed with a beneficial re-use study that would determine the commercial value of dredged material recovered from the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir. Frederick reminded Council they had declined that portion of the study in October 2009 .

Councilor Satyendra Huja said he did not understand why the ACSA was refusing to pay for an equal share of the dredging feasibility study.

“In our mind, it’s for the benefit of the whole water plan, not just for the City of Charlottesville,” Huja said.
Councilor David Brown said he agreed with Huja’s sentiment, but reminded him that the county’s representation had a different philosophy.

“Their point of view would be that they don’t think the studies are necessary, and so why should they pay for them?” Brown related. “Our point of view is that they are necessary so we want to see them done. But their point of view is based on the fact that at one point in time we agreed we had a plan we all supported. City Council has become interested in looking deeper into whether it’s the best plan. I think other boards have not been convinced of that.”

During the negotiations over who would pay for the dredging feasibility study, the ACSA agreed to consider to paying the City back if the additional surveys resulted in a cheaper plan for the urban water supply. In November, the ACSA discussed the possibility of contributing to the beneficial reuse study, and could take the matter up again at their meeting Thursday.

Norris said he was the Councilor who had asked to have the beneficial reuse study removed from the study to save costs, but was willing to reconsider.

“If HDR strongly feels the beneficial reuse needs to be done and we can get the ACSA to help pay some of those costs, I’ll willing to have that reintegrated into the study,” Norris said.

Council opts to independently examine 13-foot expansion of Lower Ragged Mountain Dam

The second question Frederick asked was whether the RWSA should hire Schnabel to develop a cost estimate for adding 13 feet to the existing Lower Ragged Mountain Dam (built circa 1908) instead of building a new dam that would raise the water level by 45 feet. He said Schnabel has proposed to do the work in two phases.

According to Frederick, the first phase, which would cost $188,000, would be a feasibility study to see if this could be done and would produce a “ballpark” estimate. Frederick said a second phase consisting of preliminary engineering would generate a more accurate cost estimate for this alternative. He also cautioned that this alternative might not fit within the framework of the federal and state permits allowing the adopted plan to proceed.

The Albemarle County Service Authority has said it would not contribute to a study of expanding the existing dam, according to Frederick.

 “This is our property, it’s our dam, and we’re the only ones advocating for the exploration of this potential alternative,” Norris said. “If we want to see that alternative fleshed out, someone will have to pay for it. In the long run, this could conceivably save tens of millions of dollars.”

Frederick said the other alternative was for the City to hire its own firm to conduct that study. He cautioned that if Council took that route, the results would likely not come back until the end of this year and not concurrent with the other water supply studies now on-going.

At the beginning of the meeting, Betty Mooney of the group Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan said the City should not allow the same firm hired by RWSA to design the new dam to also conduct the develop a cost estimate of adding 13 feet to the existing dam.

“One of the mistakes [in developing the water supply plan] was hiring the same company to study dredging that studied building the dam when they then got the contract to build the dam, “ Mooney said. “I’m concerned we’re going to make the same mistake again.”

Norris was receptive to Mooney’s concern.

“I think it would behoove all of us to look at getting an objective third-party to conduct this study whose motives and processes cannot be questioned because there is a stake in the outcome,” Norris said. He proposed managing the project in-house with City staff.

Councilor David Brown agreed and said the City might benefit by delaying the start of a study of the 13-foot extension until the dredging study, already underway, was completed.

“[Let’s] get some sense of the dredging feasibility study results before we commit to spending a lot of money on this study just to make sure that there are no big holes in dredging as an option,” Brown said.

The “Norris Plan,” first put forward as a water supply alternative by Dave Norris in February 2009, involves securing enough water storage to supply the community during the next fifty years through a combination of dredging the South Fork Rivanna Reservoir, conservation, and increasing the existing Ragged Mountain Dam height by 13 feet.

Councilors Holly Edwards and Kristin Szakos agreed to support the study of the 1908 dam. Council then directed City Public Works Director Judy Mueller to begin the procurement process to secure an independent firm, other than Schnabel, to evaluate adding 13 feet to the existing Ragged Mountain Dam. 

Councilor Huja requested that Norris ask the entire RWSA Board if they would support paying for the study of the 13-foot alternative. The RWSA next meets on Tuesday, January 26.


  • 1:00 - Public comment from Kevin Lynch of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan
  • 4:49 - Public comment from Betty Mooney of Citizens for a Sustainable Water Plan
  • 8:00 - Public comment from former City Council candidate Bob Fenwick
  • 11:30 - Quarterly report from Tom Frederick of the RWSA
  • 12:50 - Frederick updates progress of new design for proposed new Ragged Mountain Dam
  • 14:30 - Frederick addresses the dredging feasibility study
  • 16:45 - Frederick addresses possibility of steering committee
  • 21:00 - Frederick addresses I-64 embankment study
  • 22:38 - Frederick asks first question of Council - should there be a beneficial re-use study?
  • 25:45 - Frederick asks if RWSA should hire Schnabel to provide cost estimate to expand existing Lower Ragged Mountain Dam by 13 feet
  • 30:00 - Frederick discusses possibility of controlling costs by phasing the construction of the new dam
  • 32:10 - Mayor Dave Norris points out that existing permits can be amended
  • 33:10 - Councilor Satyendra Huja asks why ACSA does not want to pay for bulk of dredging study
  • 38:30 - Norris raises concern about Schnabel being asked to do two different projects at once
  • 45:00 - Council discusses whether to pursue beneficial reuse study
  • 47:00 - City Manager O'Connell asks Council if they would support application to disturb soil near dam


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